At the end of November, 2020 jokes are so last year — almost literally. What will 2021 bring for Eugene songwriter Tyler Fortier, now performing as Last Year’s Man?
Continued support, hopefully, and exposure for Brave the Storm, a brand new collection of dark and moody folk rock released earlier this month. This is Fortier’s first full-length album in six years and the debut of his new songwriting moniker.
Recalling contemporary indie folk artists like Iron and Wine, golden-age alternative country like Rhett Miller, and classic California songwriters like Jackson Browne, Storm represents a second act for Fortier.
Some may remember Fortier winning EW’s Next Big Thing contest in 2011, a now-defunct tourney of Eugene’s most promising songwriters that culminated in performances and a CD.
Following that success, Fortier, who grew up on punk and emo before discovering folk and Americana, made a go of it as an independent singer-songwriter. He was never able to feel comfortable, though, in the first-person perspective of a performing musician. Soon, he settled into life as a father and composer of incidental music for film and TV.
Fortier tells me that, in the past, he had a hard time recording his own stuff. He could never develop an objective lens through which he could evaluate the material. Nevertheless, the drive to make music remained.
Since then, several Fortier commissions have ended up in the Warner/Chapell Music library, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, and he also produces other people’s music from this home studio in the River Road area of Eugene.
Stepping back into the songwriting spotlight with Storm has paid off for Fortier, with several cuts from the album showing up on prominent folk-themed Spotify playlists and charting with Kansas Public Radio.
“Doing the moniker gave me some distance from myself,” Fortier says.
The loneliness of the individual in wide open space is part and parcel in Americana music and, indeed, core to the American identity. Brave the Storm, like much of Fortier’s material, has this in spades.
Despite this newfound perspective, Storm proves Fortier’s still searching without, perhaps, some of the reckless, Ryan Adams-esque flame and spark of his more youthful material — traded instead for hard-won wisdom.
“I am the boy searching/I am color in the dark,” Fortier sings on the song “Wild, Wild Heart,” among the strongest cuts on the record.
Elsewhere, there’s gentle finger-picked guitar work on the opening track, “Brave the Storm,” with haunting backing vocals from Portland singer-songwriter Anna Tivel.
The album is thick with guest appearances, including another dark and brooding Portland songwriter, Jeffrey Martin. The big-hearted ballad “My Own Ghost Town,” an album highlight, features tenor guitar work from Lex Price. Price is known for playing with artists like Neko Case and Rodney Crowell.
“These eight songs sort of gelled to me, for whatever reason,” Fortier says. “It’s not a concept album. I picked the strongest songs.”
“That was a decision I couldn’t have made four years ago,” he adds. “That’s the sort of evolution that’s been happening with producing more stuff, and learning to distance myself.”
Fortier admits that once an album is complete, it’s not like him to listen back to his own material.
“I’m already thinking about the next two albums,” he admits. Nevertheless, Fortier’s proud of the work, hoping it can function as a business card for his work as a songwriter but also as a producer.
“I’m really happy that I created something,” Fortier says. “That’s a lot more difficult than that sounds: creating something.”
Brave the Storm is available now on all major music streaming services.